Disciplic Succession

Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha“The muni said, ‘Go and bring the King of Ayodhya here.’ The king then started, remembering the guru, Parvati, Shiva and Ganesha.” (Janaki Mangala, 128)

jāi kaheu pagu dhāria muni avadhesahi |
cale sumiri gurū gauri girīsa ganesahi ||

When we watch movies with our friends it’s not uncommon to have a discussion afterwards. “You know, I noticed that the car was really important to that old man. I think it was symbolic of his attitude. The car was just like him. It was a classic. It was old, but still in great condition. Everything around it was changing, but the car was always the same. It was trusted. It was reliable. That was a pretty deep point the film tried to make.” And then we can present countering viewpoints. Everything is up for interpretation. One person’s view is just as valid as another’s, as who is to say who is right? The tendency is to apply the same critical eye to the words of revealed scripture, but this is not a wise path. The Supreme Absolute Truth is neti neti, or “not this and not that.” He is not of this world, and so an endless amount of words does not suffice in accurately describing Him. Yet at the same time, mental speculation can never get anyone close to knowing Him. Information of Him is passed on through authorized channels, including personalities who through their important role become worshipable figures.

What is the harm in mentally speculating with the words found in scriptures? What is wrong with offering a personal interpretation?

Gran Torino movie posterWe can take the Vedas as an example. From the root meaning of the word, we see that the scriptures are not intended to be sectarian. Veda means knowledge. It does not mean knowledge for only the Hindus. It does not mean knowledge to apply only to an ancient time period. It does not mean knowledge that must be accepted out of fear. It is straight truth. Just like the law of gravity is scientifically understood, so too the knowledge of matter and spirit presented by the original system of knowledge, the Vedas, is meant to be accepted by the rationally thinking mind.

There is no ambiguity in the information transfer of the Vedas either. Today likely the most famous work of the Vedas is the Bhagavad-gita. It is widely known through its many translations that are available. The Bhagavad-gita is basically a conversation, one that took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra between a hesitant warrior and his charioteer. The charioteer later revealed Himself to be God. He explained His position in terms understandable to the audience, which includes both Arjuna and future generations of mankind. He explained Himself to be the origin of the creation, the seed-giving father to the population, and the ultimate shelter for all forms of life. He even showed His universal form to dispel any doubts others would have.

Bhagavad-gita, 10.39“Furthermore, O Arjuna, I am the generating seed of all existences. There is no being – moving or unmoving – that can exist without Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.39)

Krishna showing the universal formSo, where is the room for interpretation? The charioteer is named Krishna, and He is described in so many other Vedic texts as well. The Bhagavad-gita was passed on through an oral tradition. Its inception and subsequent transfer are both described in the Gita itself by Shri Krishna. Nowhere does the Lord say that He suddenly had a revelation and that the knowledge appeared to Him. He doesn’t say that He concocted the system on His own through trial and error. He does say, however, that saintly kings held on to the information and passed it on. Arjuna was to be a new link in the chain, someone who could be trusted with the information.

If I tell you something today and you remember it, you can repeat it verbatim to someone else in the future. To that person, the information is as good as coming from me. They may not have direct contact with me, but since the mechanism for transfer was not tampered with, they received the exact same message that I gave to you. In the same way, we can today hear from Krishna directly, though to us it seems like the message is coming indirectly. We simply have to approach someone in the chain of disciplic succession. They give us the only valid interpretation of Krishna’s words. They may present it differently based on time and circumstance, but the basic message does not change. Today I may hear the Bhagavad-gita translated into the English language, and I know that originally it was spoken in Sanskrit, but if the person translating the words understood the truths properly, there is nothing lost in the transfer.

On the other hand, if I simply pick up a Bhagavad-gita, read the verses, and then apply my own interpretation, the meanings will be lost. There is no way for me to conceive on my own the concepts of birth after death, the changing bodies, and the modes of material nature. I could never realize on my own that the vital force within all life forms is the exact same in quality. I could never figure out that spirit never dies and that death as we know it is only the changing of bodies. My interpretation of the Gita would be like eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation and taking everything out of context.

Disciplic succession brings the necessary context for understanding, and since the understanding is of the highest knowledge, those within the chain are worshipable. King Dasharatha of Ayodhya shows the importance of honoring those in the chain in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala. Here he is being summoned to the wedding ceremony by King Janaka’s priest, Shatananda. Janaka’s daughter Sita was marrying Dasharatha’s son Rama.

Shiva, Parvati and GaneshaDasharatha had just arrived and was staying at the guest quarters in Janaka’s kingdom. Here he gets word that the time for marriage is approaching and that his presence is needed. Rather than haphazardly travel, Dasharatha first remembers his guru, Parvati Devi, Lord Shiva and then Ganesha. The guru is Vashishtha. He was the guru of the Raghu family, and so he was very important. He kept knowledge of the Vedas with him, and so his counsel was always appropriate.

Parvati, Shiva and Ganesha are important here specifically because of the nature of the participants of the wedding. Krishna is also Rama, the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince. Lord Shiva is the greatest Vaishnava, or devotee of the personal form of the Supreme Lord, which is the original. Shiva’s preferred Vishnu form of worship is Rama. While there are many forms of Vishnu, we shouldn’t mistakenly consider any divine form to be God. The Vishnu forms are spelled out in the Vedas.

Parvati is Shiva’s wife. She is the controller of the material nature and also a devoted wife. She is the most chaste wife. Their son is Ganesha, and he serves his parents. Thus all three are linked to the Supreme Lord. Remembering them, combined with the guru, is always beneficial. Dasharatha prayed for their favor in the upcoming ceremony. He wanted his son and his future daughter-in-law to always be happy together. He specifically wanted that they adhere to dharma together. That is the point to marriage after all. If you degrade marriage to the point that it acts only as a sex contract, then surely others will want to have the chance to sign such a contract for themselves, even though they may not be of the proper gender combination.

Marriage is a religious institution, and religion is meant for advancing one towards pure God consciousness. Animals satisfy their desires for sex on a whim; they don’t need marriage. Marriage exists to curb sexual desires, to sanction it in a way that promotes the continuity of the population, providing for good children at the same time. A good child is one who knows God. One who doesn’t is animal-like, and so the business of the parents is to elevate their children from the animal consciousness.

Sita and RamaLord Shiva is one of the highest chains in the disciplic succession that knows God. He says that Rama is God, and so based on his position we can accept that as fact. Parvati Devi and Lord Ganesha also accept Sita and Rama, further buttressing the validity of the same truth. From Dasharatha’s example, we see that there is no need to speculate on truths. Follow the real guru, who will inherently be linked to Sita and Rama.

In the modern age, there are four primary sampradayas, or disciplic successions, that teach the true message of the Bhagavad-gita. Consulting a teacher in this line brings us the right information, freeing our mind from the burden of having to reach the proper conclusion on its own. This is the heaviest burden, as without the grace of the guru there is no hope for transcendental perfection.

In Closing:

Truths to Arjuna Krishna did give,

How he’s origin of everything that lives.


Without authority speculate will the mind,

The real truth thus never to find.


Just approach someone in disciplic chain,

Then wisdom of God easily gain.


Respect to gurus by Dasharatha was shown,

That their favor most valuable was known.


Categories: janaki mangala

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